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12th March 2015

‘Jihadi John’ and The pull factors of terrorism and the push factors of Western society

How much is the West to blame for the radicalisation of its citizens? Lauren Wills considers this alongside the obvious pull of Islamic extremism in the fight against IS

We all agree that terrorism is wrong, but few question the causes of terrorism and whether external factors are to blame. If the ‘world is our oyster’ here in the UK, why is it that British citizens are turning to extremism to find purpose and fulfilment?

The UK has a counter-terrorism strategy–CONTEST–and part of this is the ‘Prevent’ strand. This involves trying to stop individuals from becoming terrorists or supporting violent extremism. Considering that it’s estimated that IS gained around 6000 new recruits since the US and UK began drone strikes in Iraq and Syria, it’s evident that there are faults in our strategy.

Mohammed Emwazi, or as the media have titled him, “Jihadi John,” is the Kuwaiti-born Briton believed to have taken part in the brutal murders of hostages by IS. He was actually educated at the Quintin Kynaston Community Academy in North London, and then furthered his studies, graduating from the University of Westminster in 2009 with a degree in computing. The school stated that Emwazi was “never suspected of being radicalised at school”.

Most people believe in teaching their children and those they have influence over about the rights and wrongs of society from a young age. Whilst giving children freedom to explore their opinions and determine as young adults what they think about the world, parents and teachers should be educating their children about real issues.

Emwazi’s parents said they had no knowledge of their son’s radicalisation and last heard from him in September 2013 when he said he was partaking in humanitarian work in Syria. By no means am I saying they’re to blame, as I recognise that young people are influenced by their environment, but generally I think those recognising they have role model status in a young person’s life–whether that be a parent, a teacher, a friend or social worker–should make an effort to contribute to their development.

I remember as a young girl in 2001 watching the collapse of the World Trade Center in New York, and being completely astounded as  to who would do such a thing and why. Terrorism and its causes had never crossed my mind. I’m not suggesting that parents should give their children nightmares about IS beheading innocent people, but giving information on such atrocities would surely play a part in discouraging radicalisation.

I don’t know how someone with an aspiration to engage in horrific acts of terrorism can conceal such a desire to the point that noone suspects radicalisation. I do not believe that his particular place of education is solely responsible for Emwazi’s choice to promote violent extremism, but education generally and the lack of personal and one-to-one development with staff and students surely plays a part when such decisions go unnoticed. Individual, as well as collective, development in education should thus be encouraged by the government.

Terrorist communication and advancements of networks is a consequence of the increasing growth of the virtual world, and despite liberty advocates claiming there’s a ‘security state’ being created, this is an important window of opportunity that has opened up for terrorist groups to interconnect globally. A virtual world where like-minded people can be influenced into thinking terrorism gives their life a true purpose is something the government should actively discourage through highlighting the endless positive and fulfilling opportunities individuals can do to contribute to society.

It’s worrying that British citizens see the ‘pull factor’ in groups such as IS, but equally it’s of paramount importance to consider ‘push factors’ out of Western society for minorities. Emwazi claims to have been ‘harassed’ by security services in the UK (as he has been on their watch-list for some time, apparently) and if this is a contributing factor then as The Guardian reports, the agency must answer some ‘serious questions.’

One of the statements made by an IS terrorist last year said that the group “love death more than life”. This is contrary to everything the West apparently stands for. Britain, home to one of the most long-standing democracies in the world and somewhere which actively promotes equality and human rights, is also somewhere which has allowed intelligent young people with promising futures to join a perfectionist group which hates everything about the West.

Many will say this is brainwashing and denotes problems with Islam in general. IS do not represent Islam, and I dismay when people make these uninformed and offensive arguments against the whole faith. Of course, what terrorists think they are doing is the will of Allah, but most would argue that true religion is never about violence; therefore, criticising Muslims for the acts of one group is just like criticising all Christians because of the one extremist who massacred 91 people in Norway in 2011 (which most would find absurd).

What astounds me is how someone described a relatively hard-working individual, who was intelligent enough to gain a degree, has ended up being recruited by a terrorist group. The media hammers down our throats that terrorism is wrong and that terrorism is a real threat to UK citizens, but if we really want to see change, we should question whether our culture encourages radicalisation.

In conclusion, I don’t know what went on in this man’s mind, but as well as condemning his actions, we should also look at the causes, and ensure that people are well-educated on the issues surrounding terrorism; that efforts are made to include and help to integrate suppressed minorities in society; and that our government and security services doesn’t operate in a way which acts as a ‘push factor’ for those most prone to radicalisation.

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